How CFOs Can Stem Turnover

Three important ways to keep your best people on your team now that the job market is improving.
James QuigleyApril 20, 2012

For some time now, it has been predicted that companies can expect high voluntary employee turnover when the economy starts to recover. The hardest hit could be companies whose employees have become unmotivated, unattached, and disengaged during the downturn.

Corporate talent programs are falling short on performance and investment, according to the January 2012 issue of Talent Edge 2020, a survey series conducted by Deloitte in collaboration with Forbes Insights. Only 17% of executives surveyed believe their talent programs are “world-class across the board,” while 83% acknowledge that significant improvements need to be made. As our economy begins to show signs of recovery, now is the time to renew investment in talent-management programs that will help decrease turnover rates and increase employee commitment and company success.

So what is the CFOs’ role in this?

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Now, perhaps more than ever, CFOs must take the time to carefully craft a leadership approach for themselves and their staff that is responsive to the team’s needs and expectations and that adapts to ever-shifting circumstances. An effective approach includes the ability to develop a sense of belonging for employees, commitment to take personal action to achieve the goals of the organization, and a common understanding of how to work together. That approach drives organizational behavior and offers important benefits: more productive and dedicated employees, higher levels of employee engagement, and increased retention of key talent.

How can CFOs, through a focus on collective leadership, help minimize employee turnover and effectively manage talent to sustain company initiatives and enjoy ongoing success?

Operate As One
The role of CFO is no longer solely financial stewardship and accountability; CFOs today must be strategic business leaders. In addition to financial responsibilities, they must be effective at creating, communicating, executing, and sustaining strategic initiatives within the company, and that means managing talent as well.

To effectively manage (and keep) talent, CFOs must develop a more precise understanding of the different ways in which their team members work together. Equipping themselves and their teams with the right language to align common goals, roles, and responsibilities can help create a stronger level of commitment toward what they need to accomplish together. When a group of people — no matter in what industry — truly operate together as one, remarkable things can be accomplished.

A great example of this is seen through dabbawalas, the lunchbox deliverymen of Mumbai. Through an operation with Six Sigma–like precision, dabbawalas deliver more than 200,000 hot meals a day. Of every 6 million deliveries, only one fails to arrive on time: a staggering feat of performance and efficiency. If one dabbawala is injured or otherwise unable to complete a task, another can be instantly called in.

Their success can be attributed to an ability to operate as one, with a shared sense of pride in their work, common understanding, and a culture of mutual support. When given the tools to do their job well, employees can — and will — actively contribute to the overall success of the company.

Clearly Articulate Roles and Responsibilities
In addition to giving people the tools to effectively carry out their responsibilities, CFOs must create a sense of ownership and accountability for shared goals and objectives. A lack of clear direction and ineffective communication will result in poor workforce engagement and underperformance, likely leading to unacceptable, unsustainable levels of turnover. High-performing organizations have clarity on goals, strategies, and the individual’s role in achieving same.

Without a sense of ownership for goals, it’s hard to obtain the necessary levels of commitment to execution, which is the single biggest challenge in many organizations. It isn’t just how you develop shared goals that matters most; it’s how you instill ownership by the people required to take action for their implementation. All team members should understand how they individually contribute to the organization’s success.

Recognize Opportunities for Employee Growth
Once CFOs clearly define roles and responsibilities within the organization, they must consistently recognize and evaluate new opportunities for growth among their staff.

When employees really believe their voice counts and their actions will make a difference, staff commitment moves up dramatically. But in companies that lack interactive discourse, it’s harder to gain the energy and innovation required for staff to be successful.

Through open dialogue, employees and CFOs can share their needs, preferences, and goals with each other on a real-time basis. CFOs can gain a better understanding of what employees value and why, which can inform the development of total rewards programs and other workplace initiatives specifically designed to enhance employee engagement. Employees, in turn, can gain a better understanding of what the CFO needs and expects from them, as well as the sense of having a real say in how the business is run.

As company priorities change, or team members come and go, it is important to have a leadership program in place that can adapt alongside. Turnover is inevitable, but a collective leadership approach that represents a diverse range of leadership models can transform the way CFOs lead their function and positively affect the organization’s overall behavior. It can increase the likelihood that new and existing hires will have long, successful careers with the organization and work collectively to achieve extraordinary results.

Through this practice, the CFO can be a strong leader within the broader enterprise and make a significant and lasting impact beyond the balance sheet alone.

James Quigley is the former CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. and currently is a senior partner in its U.S. member firm. He is also co-author of As One: Individual Action, Collective Power (Portfolio Penguin, 2011).